Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Travel Notes from Chapagaon, Nepal

I had a choice: it's either i explore Chapagaon since i am already in Patan (Lalitpur) or i venture to the other side near Bhaktapur to Sankhu. I chose the former because it was more convenient. I reckon i can do Sankhu on my next visit. I found myself on the same walk going to Lagankhel Bus Park. As usual, the smell of jasmine, incense and burning fuel still envelopes the air outside the durbar square. I looked for a bus heading to Chapagaon, but instead of a bus, i found a mini-van. It appears as if there are only a few trips that day so i managed like a scout and rode on this particular van. Even if i only had half a seat, and the waiting time took more then 20 minutes on an enclosed dilapidated van, i was getting excited to visit Chapagaon. Again, most people I've talked in Patan know of the area but haven't visited which made me giggle in excitement. The mini van started to roll at around 12NN. The time estimates here are always conservative. The trip from Patan to Chapagaon didn't take too long. And the approximate 1-hour trip ended up only about 30 minutes.

When i arrived in Chapagaon, i saw a signage of the Bajrabahari Temple but all words are in Nepali. I trusted my instincts and went up to the gate. I walked further north and see the vast open woods. I've read about the rich bird sanctuary in this area. The sign in the north entrance helped me a little identify a few birds scrambling around the thick forest. A few minutes later, a blasting sound was heard. As i approach, i discovered a family dancing and obviously, on a picnic. On one side, a group of about 50 Gurkhas were stationed eating Dahl Bat. Chapagaon is almost forgotten. There were no tourists and you can only get by pre-reading as there's no information stated in any of the desk. But once you step in the square near the temple, you could almost imagine how it must have been hundreds of years ago. The temple is situated in the middle of the forest so it made the trip there more cinematic. There were a few elderly chaps sitting by the steps and bewildered by me. I smiled, and felt at home immediately. 

An hour later, i found myself walking east towards a highway overlooking the valley. I told myself that if i walk straight i will be lead to an even more amazing view. Of course, it wasn't the case. Walking for about 5 kilometers lead me to a dead-end. I stopped for a bit, and finished the remaining water i have in my bottle, and asked for directions. True enough, i was already located outside Chapagaon in an unheard town i sadly forgot. They pointed me to go back where i was and head south instead. I followed their advice and continued walking.

If the temples littered around Chapagaon were located in an isolated ground, this would definitely have the Angkor Wat and/or Bagan feel. But the structures were located along the highway, next to a house where a family of five lives, next to a shop where school products are sold, and definitely next to a water tank infiltrated by green molasses. As i walked some more, i realized how off the beaten path this place is. When i started taking photos of the house exteriors, everyone looked at me and they started chatting about me. I nodded in Nepali and told them i am a tourist, and continued on with my quest to take more amazing stills. At each direction, a dead-end appears, whether be it a steep cliff, or rice paddies. I saw an old man playing a flute in one corner. In this day and age, have you ever seen a man play the flute that's not for show? I paused for a bit and listed to him. His music is so beautiful that i have recorded it on my GoPro. Back at home, you would pay premium to watch a musician perform, here in Chapagaon, you end getting lost and you can watch a star reborn. I remembered someone asked me where i was from. And i remember telling the curious man about my home town. A few minutes later, i stumbled upon a seller. I was going to ask him for the bus to Lele Valley when he asked me if i was from the Philippines. This is how small Chapagaon is. People know everyone. 

After waiting for half an hour without any sign of a public bus heading to Lele, i decided to forego my plan and just stay in Chapagaon instead. The remaining hours lead me to public baths, even more emerald looking rice paddies and old local people impossibly walking up and down the gravel staircases. It's little instances like this that you feel how fortunate our lives are back in the comfort of our homes, where a taxi comes in handy to cool off during midday. This couple whom i met while i was scrambling to go on top must be aged between 70 to 80 years old. The old man is resting and catching his breath while the old woman is rubbing his back. I stopped for that moment. It was so beautiful to watch. This particular incident cemented my love for Chapagaon. Sadly, there were no hotels or guest houses in Chapagaon. If there was, i would have stayed at least a night here. 

The trip to Chapagaon satisfied my urge to visit off the beaten path places in the Kathmandu Valley. True, i couldn't find any restaurant serving food other than dahl bat and momo, and walking is the only means to go from north to south, but the feeling of discovering this place is so worthwhile. Chapagaon is a superstar. I could literally see Chapagaon to exist in every tourist's itinerary five years from now. 

Because at that day, i was going to no particular direction at all, i stumbled upon a farmer who wanted to help me get to where i want to go. But of course, it would be too hard for him to understand if i tell him that i just want to go for a walk and i'm heading nowhere in particular. He started smiling at me as i take continuous shots of the rice paddies and every cobbled step i see. Minutes later, he started to descend to another village and i saw him wave his hands to say goodbye to me. Oh, Nepal! I am so in love with you. ;) 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Travel Notes from Bungamati, Nepal

Leafing through my guide book, one morning, i thought of going to Bungamati. Some people don't even know where that is. Some locals I've talked to haven't been there, too. One morning in my Patan hotel room, i thought of visiting this small town because not much has been written about it. The curious in me wanted to know how Bungamati looks like in person. It is true that the longer i stay in Nepal, the more places i have been visiting. And i thank the fate, for if not my disappointing Bangladesh visa application and super expensive tour package to Bhutan, i wouldn't be here in the first place. 

Getting here was part-hard work and part-luck. The hotel managers say two different things when i asked how to get to Bungamati by public transportation. One manager says i ride from Jawalakhel, the Tibetan refugee district of Patan, the other manager says i ride from Lagankhel bus park, the main bus station of Patan (Lalitpur). I followed my instincts and walked going to Lagankel. It's nearer to my hotel, and less than a kilometer away from the durbar square. On the way to the bus station and south of the durbar square, i passed by countless number of shops selling from garlands to gold, from clothing to cups, and from sweets to salami. After a very rewarding walk, i finally arrived at the bus park. Surprisingly, it's more chaotic than Ragna Park located in the heart of Kathmandu. I went up to five different conductors asking where is the bus to Bungamati until i was directed to a bus bound for Bungamati. In the guide book,it says it takes an hour to reach my destination. After about 30 minutes and paying about 20 rupees, i was already at Bungamati Bus Station. The trip going there made me think twice how Bungamati really appears. We've passed by several apartments and condominiums first. When i stepped out of the bus station, the magic of Bungamati starts to appear. The single alley going to the heart of the town is old, rural, quiet and totally non-commercialized. I felt that my first minute there already the million dollar question: Is Bungamati worth it? Without a doubt, i must say.

It didn't take me too long to reach Rato Machhendranath Temple: the imposing white temple sacred to Newars. The small courtyard fronting the temple evokes simplicity. And the beating heart of Newaris is so apparent once you start gazing on the outskirts. People live every single day steps away from this magnificent temple. I saw a mother and daughter washing vegetables on one side, a couple of old men sitting by the wooden bench outside a shop, and more Hindus paying tribute by lighting up candles and circling the temple. Minutes later, a throng of pilgrims came and danced while on approach. There was music playing, and people start gathering. In minutes, Bungamati turned from a quiet courtyard to a fiesta place. Later, i found myself walking to quiet alleys penetrated by small doors. There were more people there, but unlike in the courtyard where people are dancing, in here men carefully carve an image of Shiva or Kali from a flat wood. The intricacy of the work will make you think twice before bargaining a few rupees for a souvenir. 

I walked east to discover children fooling around and playing with their friends. It is unimaginable to think that every single day, these kids do the same thing. Their playground is the single cobbled alley way that's witness to a couple of men playing cards, a neighbor blasting Hindi music, and a couple of shops who haven't sold anything in days. People know every one here. A nod here and there, one could sense the tight knit of the community looking after each other.

After quenching my thirst at one of the shops, i sat next to two old men. One of which still dressed handsomely in his Topi and earring. The other, obviously tired and hungry, pauses for a break. Later on, he rode his bicycle again with his wares. This moment made me think more about my father, and how much i think he misses me. I've been away for two months now, and have walked to the highest and lowest points in the Kathmandu Valley. I have started a conversation with kids and adults. I have shared with them my thoughts and aspirations. And i miss hanging out with my old man.

I walked to the west, and found some more houses. People stare at me more as these people haven't seen much tourist. If only they can realize how unbelievably beautiful their town is, they would then understand why i ogle at every direction in sight: crumbling Newari houses, playful kids always joking, old men and women whose charisma are so unfathomable.

Instead of hopping on another bus, i walked to reach the neighboring town of Kokhan. It is here where emerald gardens arise, and the people even more surprised to see a tourist in their home town. I spent a couple more hours here, catching the last glimpse of the sun for the day.

Less than an hour away from Patan, and the scenery has already changed so dramatically. I couldn't figure out how a bridge of just a few kilometers has left this area so noncommercial. About a month and half ago, i was on the other side of Bungamati river, in Kirtipur and Chobar. Separated only by a narrow river, yet the vibe is totally different. Bungamati is even more rural than Chobar and i think the latter has relatively been unspoiled. 

I went back to Patan an hour before sunset, coming back from Bungamati. I enjoyed a hearty dinner at Cafe De Patan before retiring for the day. The chicken cutlet was really good, so was the vegetable friend rice. A new discovery I've had is that Patan could also be a good base for day trips around the valley. Don't you think?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Travel Notes from Patan (Lalitpur), Nepal

After a very sound sleep at Bhoudanath, and making the most of the eve of Losar, i knew i was ready to hit the road again. I started with a plan to go to Bhaktapur bound for the little visited town Sankhu. Confident that i am, i knew that walking north of Bhouda going to the market stand will lead me to the highway. Of course, i was wrong. Walking this way lead me to the official consulate of Bhutan, and the morning market. I didn't falter, and continued on, making my way to even more markets and dusty, potholed roads. Right at this moment, i knew i was already lost. I always do that. I always like to discover whether my decisions are right or wrong. This time, i was wrong. I hailed too many taxis but all of them charge me a premium. I base my calculations on the number of kilometers it is needed to go to a destination. I was even charged up to 1200 rupees for a 6 kilometer trip. That is highway daylight robbery. Taxi drivers are all the same, anywhere in the world. They always charge a higher rate for foreigners thinking they have more money. It's not always the case. I have very limited budget, and expenses as such could hurt me in the long run. Most of them will ask me how much i am willing to spend. I always say "China", meaning no need. 

After an hour of walking, i saw a familiar road. It's the road that my taxi passed by the day before bound for Gokharna Mahadev. This only means one thing. I was going further down south opposite of my intended destination. It was already noon, and not having any breakfast, i was already getting hungry. I passed by one restaurant only to discover that they don't have anything apart from Dahl Bat. Luckily, on my next check, there was a restaurant in the middle of the highway. The kind lady took my orders: chicken fried rice and fried vegetable momos. Initially, i wanted Tom Yum soup which they had in the menu, but of course, it was out of stock. After an hour of waiting and figuring out where the hell i am, my food arrived and I remember finishing everything in less than 15 minutes. The kind lady started chatting, and i told her of my state. She asked me where i was heading. In reality, i had no fixed plan. I had no hotel reservation and no intended destination. I knew i wanted to go to Sankhu. That's about it. Also, Sankhu is pronounced without the n, so there was a bit of misunderstanding, too. She phoned her fried who was a taxi driver, who by this time is still eating. I waited for a couple more minutes, and her friend arrived. I felt bad that he had to rush his lunch. 

I talked to taxi driver, and he quoted 1500 rupees to get from Bhouda/Kopan to Sankhu via Gokharna Forest. He told me it's an 18-kilometer trip but through research, i knew it was only about 8 kilometers from where i am exactly. Still willing to explore, but not enough money with me, i asked for the price to other destinations. Going to Bhaktapur is still too expensive, while Patan seems more probable. He said it's 600 rupees to go to the durbar square. I said, "yes" and waved goodbye to the kind lady. After almost an hour, i knew the price was right. It took a very long time to get to Patan as i was at the far end place at the opposite side. I arrived at Patan Durbar Square, and made a detour to the main town bypassing the durbar square. It was a good familiarization trip. I was here about a year ago, but only on a day trip from Kathmandu. This time, i was excited because i will be sleeping and imagining myself there at dusk and dawn. After walking to too many highways and alleys, i told myself that i will check in at the very first hotel i see. A few minutes later, i was already bargaining for the room price at Cafe De Patan. I knew of this hotel, and how it's been operating for more than two decades now. I checked for the room, and it looked clean and close enough to the durbar square. Well, close enough means it less than 10 seconds away from the cobbled stones of Patan Durbar Square. But what made me choose the hotel is that i have a very wide glass window looking over the beautiful Uma Mashwar temple. It was a no-brainer for me at 1200 rupees for a double room. 

I spent an hour in the shower, three hours in bed, and another hour dressing up. I felt so refreshed that i was so ready to walk around beautiful Patan. I sat at one of the benches, and just watched the durbar square as it is slowly filled up with many youngsters. Some of of them perform skateboard stunts which is always a delight to see. Similar to Kathmandu, people go here at sunset to chat, eat and mingle with friends. The beaming of the sun unto the historical crumbling temples was simply amazing. I walked around its very compact square, and found myself a spot where i could sit and just relax. I took many photos that day until i saw a group of foreigners with a name card/ticket tied by a small string around their neck. It was their ticket to enter the durbar square, which i don't have. Guess what happened next???

Monday, February 23, 2015

Travel Notes from Losar, Boudhanath, Nepal

After three failed attempts, i have finally succeeded in going to Losar. Losar is the equivalent to chinese new year, and a super mega Tibetan holiday. Many buddhist pilgrims come to places like Bhouda and Swayambhu to celebrate as they look forward to a year of utmost blessings to come. 

Again, it was a last minute decision. I've just spent four hours looking for places to go at the lobby of Kathmandu City Hotel when Lamsal, hotel manager and owner, introduced me to his friends. After speaking of my disappointment to them and not going to Losar in time, they suggested i go now to Bhouda for today is the big day. Without hesitation, i left my two backpacks, and carried my duffel to Bhouda. I circled the stupa for thirteen times before deciding to stay at Comfort Guest House. The room is huge with two big beds, the windows are intricately carved, facing some butter lamps stowed for the night. The WiFi of the hotel didn't work, but the guest house next door was working perfectly fine, and i have acquired their signal. The only problem is there is no attached bathroom, and going to the loo in the middle of the night is a bummer. Since there was no electricity, so was the light to the stairs, and the bathroom itself. 

I paid 700 rupees for a room, not bad, for a one night stand. 

Losar started out quite nicely, and as hours pass by, more and more people came. Most of the devotees wore elaborate costumes, and Tibetan formal wear. I've learned that this day, many people came and dressed sharply for the new year. Later afternoon, a truck generator came, and in a few minutes, the largest stupa in Nepal was now lighted in assortment of candy colors. I've been to Boudhanath at least four times, and this is the only time i was here at night and when it is well-lit. 

I stopped by Himalayan Cafe for dinner, and enjoyed the breezy night. Two young locals were making out in one corner, as an 80's love song was being played. It didn't bother me, but knowing that we're in front of a holy place seems to make me frown a little. Somehow, i got confused whether the day was Losar or valentine's day. Either way, may be the couple wanted to start the year with an action, eh?

Since i was staying inside the Boudhanath complex for the night, i had the luxury of time. I circled the stupa a few more times, and discovered Tibetan monks playing the local instrument as devotees gave biscuits, pop corns, flowers, etc. in a mountain of offering. The incense has filled the air, and more people came at night to worship. 

 A little after 9 o'clock, and the crowd of hundreds has slowly left. By this time, i was seated to one of the benches fronting the stupa. Beside me is a huge dog, two foreign dharma students, and a mad person seated on the stoned floors. Maybe, i was destined to sit here at this very same spot so i can fully realize what Losar really means. I don't understand the concept of the Tibetan New Year, as obviously, i am not Tibetan or Buddhist. Earlier, i saw hundreds of devotees giving out food as offering. And this mad person beside me is eating rotten food. And the worse part is, he has no clean drinking water. I gave the man my spare unsealed bottled water. I always buy two before heading to my hotel. Suddenly, i feel that Losar means so much more than celebrating the coming year dressed to impress. It is about celebrating kindness of people. Buddha pronounces to spread kindness to people. Yet, this man who has been here since morning, has only eaten once. 

I didn't talk to him nor did i give instructions. I left the bottled water and nodded like a Nepali. I came back a few minutes later, and the water is more than halfway finished already. I've never been so happy. I feel that my trips has been really, really rewarding spiritually.

Yes. I saw the amazing stupa of Boudha lit up at night, and spending this special new year, with hundreds of pilgrims from around Tibet and China, while inhaling thick smokes of incense sticks, seeing thousands of candles lit up was a definite Losar experience. But spending the night at Boudha was extra special because i found a glimpse of enlightenment so unexpectedly. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Travel Notes from Gokharna Mahadev, Nepal

Things really do happen for a reason. I went to Bhouda ( locals call it Bhouda, without the Nath) this day thinking it was Losar. It is but there's no big festival or some sort. Tibetans celebrate Losar for almost two weeks. I paid the taxi driver 300 rupees from Thamel to Bhouda. That is the actual fare on the 6 kilometer trip. When i arrived, it was the usual. Although i can see signs of celebration ahead, like candles being lit up, offerings being sold like corn, spices, and flowers. I re-directed my taxi driver to travel a few kilometers more to Gokharna Mahadev passing through Kopan on the way to Gokharna forest. Gokharna Mahadev is almost forgotten. If not, probably the least managed site i have visited in Nepal. I could see a few tourist structures along the perimeter but none was open, and locals have built houses on the banks of the temple. It is only in Nepal where you can see someone bathing alongside a world heritage site. This simply means, history is still part of the present and future of the local people. 

When i arrived at the dusty junction. I noticed how easy it is for travelers to visit but there was none when i went. Some trekkers combine the Bhoudanath - Kopan - Gokharna Mahadev in one action-packed loop. After visiting too many Hindu temples in Nepal, i can honestly say that Gokharna Mahadev is my most favorite of all. It's built in simply structure but the details are all elaborate. This temple is dedicated to Shiva, by now my most favorite Hindu god. For someone who's not born Hindu, it is a great learning experience to visit here. I could totally understand every detail of every Ganesh, Shiva, Kali, and all the hanky panky designs of the temple.

Once i sort out my photos, i will try to post some here on this site. This temple is a photographer's dream. Every angle, there is something worthy to photograph. I've spent only three hours around here, and my taxi driver did complain a little. Apparently, the next taxi driver on shift is already waiting. Promise me that you visit Gokharna Mahadev when you have the time.

As usual, a kind Nepali boy help me find the toilet. He must be probably weirded out that i look like his neighbor yet i don't know where the loo is. 

I said, things do happen for a reason. Because if i knew the correct date of Losar then i wouldn't have visited Gokharna Mahadev. I've read about this temple since last year when i first came to Nepal but i have always deprioritized it for the more popular attractions. 

I miscalculated the taxi fare and bargained a 1000 rupee payment for Thamel - Gokharna Mahadev - Bhoudanath instead of 700 rupees. On the way to my destination, he passed by his son. He was playing in the streets. His mother is at work. His father is driving me. He looks like the typical Nepali boy you will see -- funny, loud, and full of life. he is playing in the same street where trucks, motorycles, cows, and locals pass by on that dusty, potholed road. I reckoned, 1000 rupees is the least i can do to make his little boy happy. I hope he received a present from his father at the end of the day. 

I am still here in Patan. I chose to stay here, and forego Bhaktapur as i really think it's getting more and more chaotic there as years pass by. Also, the entrance ticket is increasing and i don't want to deal with army checkpoints anymore. I like Patan because it's much more quiet, more laidback, and the bakeries serving fresh doughnuts and croissants are so welcoming. Last night, i woke up to two Chinese nationals having sex on their room below my room. Don't ask me more about it. I am on the third floor of Cafe de Patan, in front of an old Uma Maheshwar Temple, and they're on the second floor. It makes me realize how at the end of the day, simple things make people happy -- like having sex on vacation, getting a 300 rupee taxi commission, boys playing in the busy streets on a holiday or visiting Gokharna Mahadev Temple. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Travel Notes from Maha Shivaratri, Pashupatinath, Nepal Part 2

This trip of mine was so good, i needed to write a second post. It's 6AM here in Patan, and i am tucked in a nice guest house by the durbar square. I have a pocket of 2 more hours before load shedding begins. I have learned to accept that good working electricity is so hard to find in Nepal. Some places are really bad with only 6 hours of electricity a day, while others are more blessed with about 16-18 hours. 

Up until now, i still could not believe that this trip of mine coincided with Shivaratri. For Hindus, this is one of the biggest festivals of the year, if not the biggest. The minute i stepped in the complex, i could literally hear the loud chants of the local people. And as each step progresses approaching the ghats, the sounds become even more tantric. To be honest, the set up was an accident waiting to happen. But i feel that Shiva was there to guide me all the way. 

In Hindu teachings, Shiva is both the creator and destroyer so he is worshiped by many. During the festival, i learned that this god, among others, help people to become better people. Why? People offer everything, even little things they have, because they look forward to a better future for them. In Shivaratri, I've seen the poorest people, and the most glamorous people. They both walked in the same path circling the temples and ghats. Both of them fell in line for a whopping five hours to see Shiva inside the temple. They have a purpose in life. And their intentions are pure and real. That's what makes these people -- good people. Whether it is for a new house they're building, or the passing of a loved one. Every person wants to have a good life, away from despair and hardships/troubles of life. These people are not perfect. Sometimes, what they do upsets me. But that is the reason why i love them, because they're real.

Other people may have a different view (correct view) of what Shivaratri is, but for me it is blessing people whose intentions are for the good. 

I've had a lovely chat one evening at my hotel, with a Nepali man whose now living in the USA. He came back home because of his dying father who lives in Eastern Terai, and he has given me valuable history lesson of Nepal. I thank him for opening up my eyes to the world of rebellion and constitution. It appears as if his relationship with his father is strained. I can sense that every time he talks about his father, he feels really sad. His family is back home, and he is leaving them for three months. He's also manning the construction of his building in Patan (where i am now). He mentions that he may go back to the USA soon, but he hasn't made his plans yet. 

I know Shiva is watching over him, and will be blessing his every move. He will stay to look after his father. And his father will get well. I have a strong feeling. It is Shiva, of course. He will. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Travel Notes from Maha Shivaratri, Pashupatinath, Nepal Part 1

The reason why my plans changed is because i just heard from my hotel manager here at Kathmandu City Hotel that Shivaratri is coming up in a few days. I was suppose to leave for the mountains yet again, but i reckoned a huge festival dedicated to Shiva is so hard to miss. I cannot afford to miss it, by hook or by crook. 

I arrived the day before coming from a standing room only bus from Dollu to Kathmandu. I still had plenty of time to kill before the event the next day. So, i roamed around the back streets of Thamel before closing time to get amazing bargains. Tip: You shop around 8-9PM when shops are closing, and bargain to the max.

After coming from an amazing shopping spree, i went back to the hotel exhausted and hungry. Gladly, Shiva was there and we ate together an amazing Dahl Bat meal. That night, i started reading about the god Shiva and this amazing festival. I felt that in order to fully embrace the big day, one must understand the real reason why so many local people come here in the first place. 

After a hearty breakfast, i arrived at Pashupatinath at noon. One cannot fathom the line going inside the Shiva Temple. It's the longest line I've ever seen in my life. News say that the line is so long, the end was near the Tribhuvam airport. So many pilgrims from India, Bhutan and other SAARC countries came to worship Shiva on his special birthday. I've been so lucky in Nepal this trip that i didn't pay the jaw-breaking entrance fee at 1000 rupees for foreigners. I just walked, and nobody asked me for a ticket. I just hope and pray that nobody from the ticket counter is reading this. Otherwise, i am dead meat. 

I spent a total of five hours inside Pashupatinath, roaming around and eager to check what the locals are doing. Many people came in groups chatting, and relaxing by the different temples inside the complex. But the real stars of the day are the Sadhus and Babajis from all around Nepal and India, enjoying this day where everything is absolutely free. Think about anything a normal person cannot do, it happened. I saw a Sadhu naked, and was preaching his sermon to a crowd of kids. Over to the other side by the ghats are Sadhus and Babajis by the hundreds rolling marijuana and selling to all local people. Take note that this day is also the only day where marijuana is legal. It's feels weird that everyone was so high on the drug, while policemen are littered checking who're high enough to go home. 

I met a Nepali guy from another province who bought a stick of marijuana from a Babaji for about a hundred rupee. That's 1 freakin' dollar. He wanted to share the stick with me. 

Later on, i found myself amazed by the Sadhus and Babajis. One, they've all come out of their shells, and for one day they could totally enjoy themselves. They've been living their whole life meditating and praying so a day of having fun is definitely something they look forward to. I've been making circles seeing groups of local people, as young as 12 to as old as 65, all eyes super red, and obviously high. Sadhus and Babajis were high, too. Some were sleeping, others were on a different state chanting "ohm...ohm...ohm...". 

I could go home early, buy my heart says to stay. I stayed long enough to have acquired all the burning marijuana, incense sticks, and fire at the nearby ghat. Walking up and down the stairs was a delight to all senses. I was squeezing myself to fit a very little space, while smelling urine, sweat, and smoke. I was touched (whether intentionally or not) at private parts. I've seen nipples, hairy balls, shit, and a puke. I have heard loud noises of babus crying, women being stepped on foot, old men and women laughing, and bells being rang by every Hindu in sight. In total, i was right with my estimate. About 1 million people came to Pashupatinath for Shivaratri. And when i left just as when sun was setting, more people came. 

In my opinion, I've never seen a crowd so dedicated to their faith as the Hindu people. They are the living testament to an aged old tradition still being practiced until today. 

One Babaji put an ash circle on top of my forehead, and tapped my head soon after. He's about the same age as mine, and he has already devoted his whole future to praying and meditating. Later on, another Sadhu blessed me by pinching my ears and stroking my hair. It seemed like regardless of religion, class, or belief, everyone was in the mood to pray. Everyone was there for one thing. For Shiva. 

I could go on and on with my experiences, and even all the words that i could think of, will not be at par to the experience I've had. I will write more later today. I am now sitting on the couch of my lovely hotel here at Kathmandu City Hotel. I am already thinking how will i feel when i leave Nepal next week. 

Oh, Shiva. You have brought all people to come and worship you. You have brought me, a non-Hindu, to Pashupatinath, and accepted me with open arms. That i will never ever forget. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Travel Notes from Parphing-Dakshinkali-Dollu, Nepal

After more than a month and a half in Nepal, i've successfully immersed myself in the culture and religion of people. One big misconception is that the major religion in Nepal is Buddhism. It's not. Although a certain percentage worships Buddha, a vast majority is Hindu. 

Hinduism is one of the most interesting religions of the world. With so many gods to worship, and a tradition that lives on since ages ago, Hindus are simply unique. After a brief stint at Pharping, following the Buddhist path to enlightenment, i was off to the next town famous as a pilgrim for Kali worshipers.   Since i had plenty of time, i walked from Pharping to Dakshinkali. I just asked random people, and Nepalis never fail to point me at the right direction. I walked south of Pharping, passing by cobbled streets and local people. It's small, dusty and obviously non-touristy. Of course, i got lost but managed to find the correct path along rice paddies, cows and farmers tending the field. It was already noon, and getting warmer. 

I arrived at the junction, where there are two paths to take. One takes up to Dakshinkali Village Inn with uncles sitting on benches doing absolutely nothing, and the other one is spiraling down towards the end of the road. I walked down and felt the cool breeze from the pine trees. I found a green gate, and a couple of Kali fixtures. After countless steps again, i finally reached the temple. The steps were soaked in blood, and feathers sit in the banks of the holy water. It's not even Tuesday, and the air is already tantric. Imagine if i was there on Tuesday or Saturday -- both days are for worship. A few minutes later, the ceremony started. I found a quiet spot on the terrace where i will not distract the devotees, and listened/watched in amazement. I didn't know if there's a fee to enter, but i didn't because nobody asked me, anyway.

I saw a woman holding a flat bamboo plate filled with rice, flowers, a couple of rupees. I saw a man holding a live chicken on the throat. Later on, the animal was served as a sacrificial gift. It was gory but for Hindus --it's very holy. 

Dakshinkali is famous for the Kali Temple. That's it. That's why this town is peaceful most of the days, and the women and men selling Kali souvenirs and flowers by the bus stop can count on hands the number of stuff they've sold for the day. Again, to truly appreciate Dakshinkali, one must understand Hinduism. It's a very old religion, and millions believe that gods have the power and might to rule this earth. I am still on a limbo whether i am amenable to sacrifices but on this day, i found a beating in my heart so hard. I knew i was connected to Kali right at this very moment. I was being watched. But i knew, i was blessed.

I've seen shocking things in my life, and this is one of them. But i feel very lucky to have experienced such. Overwhelmed, i hailed a bus towards Dollu on the way to Kathmandu. I still have a couple of hours to spare, and i don't want to spend them in Thamel where obviously i will spend my rupees on shopping. I stopped at Dollu junction and walked half-way till i got tired. Dollu is similar to Pharping where Buddhists from around the world come and spend weeks, sometimes months, studying this religion. There is only one or two hotels, and the huge fixture at the lap of the mountain is currently being constructed. There were many Buddhist monasteries but I've had enough already in Pharping. I actually enjoyed some quiet time at the benches near the junction where i sat and watched people take the bus, go down from it, walk up north and down south the highway. I have to realize for myself that I've been on the road a very long time, and there will be moments where i will feel like not doing anything.This is the time. I am not being lazy. I just need to relax for a bit. 

A couple of Suryas later, and this dog kept on licking me on my crotch, and would not leave. Scared but was laughing the whole time. Dai was there to shoo the dog away. Said goodbye to the cute labrador, and rode a bus bound for Kathmandu. I was standing the whole trip that took more than an hour. I got squeezed in big time, and personal space is non-existent here but I've gotten used to it. This is Nepal -- My most favorite country in the world. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Travel Notes from Kathmandu-Pharping, Nepal

I am now going to places that i haven't visited. To play fair and ensure that i have objectively visited all towns, municipalities and cities of Nepal, i was off to Pharping. Pharping is located in the southern valley of Kathmandu facing endless mountain ranges and rice paddies. It is also well-known as a Buddhist enclave. Thousands of pilgrims set off to explore this tiny Buddha fan town tucked in a ridge. 

To get here was a last minute decision. A sudden change of plans from Kathmandu lead me to this place. I just wished the weather cooperated, as skies have been cloudy the past few days. After a 2-day break in the capital city to get some money, eat familiar food, and sort out my memory cards and gadgets, i knew that i was ready to move again. And at 12 noon, i left my backpacks and brought with me a duffel i bought in Thailand a year earlier. I didn't bring much for the 2 day out of town trip. I was just super confident that i can pull this through, whatever it takes. Originally, i was planning to stay at this hotel facing a monastery. It must be a whirlwind experience to be staying a few meters away from praying monks but i simply cannot afford it. I don't want to mention the name of the hotel because i didn't stay there anyway. But i must say, the location is out of this world. The kind gentleman helped me find the bus to Pharping. I was at a junction, a few kilometers away from Dollu. It took me less than 5 minutes and a stick of cigarette before i was hailed a taxi, not a bus. Well, it's not really a taxi but an actual car heading to Dakshinkali. The experience was surreal. I got seated to two men who're obviously heading to Dakshinkali. The live chicken was given. I arrived at the junction, and bargained the man if i could pay him only 100 rupees. We said goodbye, and i was already looking for Pharping Family Guest House. 

Again, the string of off the beaten path destinations continue. Pharping doesn't receive a lot of tourists. The only foreigners you will see are Buddhist students. The room next to me have been staying in Pharping for three months now. I bargained for a price, and got the best room. Directly in front of me in my balcony is Guru Rinpoche, handsomely placed in a clear glass, well-lighted at night. Which eventually became my source of light for the night. In a day, power was  cut off fore more than 18 hours. As a familiar route, i started clockwise, and visited Auspicious  Pinnacle Dharma Centre of Dzongar. It was a quiet afternoon, and no grandfathers sitting on the chair. I turned the 13 huge prayer wheels, while contemplating on what the real essence of all of these is to me. From here, i started walking towards north to visit some beautiful fine-art Buddhist monasteries such as Ralo Gompa and Sakya Tharig Gompa. I stayed for a bit here as the warm rays of the dying sun, and some pilgrims making their circles, were enough caviat for me to relax and just take it all in.

Later on, i found myself heading up the stairs to find Guru Rinpoche Cave, and was surprised to meet a half-drunk, half-wit guide. He asked for donation, so i just gave him about fifty rupees. Along this path, i saw too many tsha-tsha ( stupa-shaped clay offerings with actual hair). There were many kid monks playing, too. 

Going down was a breeze, and i found my two-hour familiarization trip worthwhile. I like Pharping because it's quiet, serene and calm. But i also found myself lost most of the time. I feel that to truly experience Pharping, you have to understand the doctrine. I think that those who're studying Buddhism here picked the best place to finish their studies. For others, it is an engaging way to look at a town from a different perspective.

Pharping is one of the places in Nepal that I've been to where establishments close the earliest. At 8PM, i was already in my room braving the winter night breeze. 80% of the shops have already closed, those who are left are just counting the stocks of their wares. Earlier that night, i opened the door to a rather full capacity restaurant. I told myself, the food must be good. Little did i know that the people eating are all monks. I am the only foreigner/non-Buddhist eating at the corner table. In front of me are about thirty monks eating their thukpas and momos. A few minutes later, all of them have become busy with their cellphones and on Facebook. One monk even helped me secure the password for the WiFi. People must realize that monks nowadays have changed. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but just surprising basing on our perceptions. In essence, these monks are still young people. They want to enjoy their youth. They want to know what's hip. They want to connect with their friends outside of the monastery. I will not be surprised if these monks even have flings. In my opinion, to study Buddhism and find enlightenment, one must still enjoy life. Because in order for us, people, to find the light, we must all live a happy life. Don't you agree?

I slept at 9PM. A couple of hours later, i woke up to monks prayers at 3AM. I may not have the most comfortable bed, and i knew i could sleep some more but my senses are already wide awake and in total state of bliss. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Travel Notes from Gorkha-Kathmandu, Nepal

Of course, i didn't wake up early enough to catch the sunrise in Gorkha. Amidst the hard beds, i was able to get some needed sleep after the unbelievable walk up to the Gorkha Durbar Square. It's very surprising, actually. I woke up instead, just in time for the bus ride to Kathmandu. Mind you, there are frequent trips to Kathmandu direct from Gorkha or Abu Khaireni. But there is only one bus leaving the opposite direction and at 6AM.

The trip was lonely, because once again, i'll be heading to civilization ( for the lack of a better term). But the view on the left side of the bus coming back to Kathmandu is beautiful. The deep blue Trisuli river was a feast of the eyes. We've passed several towns nearby the river which gave me an idea where to head next. Luckily, i was seated next to a friendly guy. A couple puja stops later, i was offered a considerable amount of oranges. Although he didn't talk much, i can sense the kindness in this man. Every now and then, he would point me to specific landmarks like the bridge, the dam, etc. I miss Bandipur so much, and it didn't help that Rukum sends me messages on Facebook asking how i am. :(

After five hours of traveling, i have arrived at Kathmandu Pokhara Bus Park. This babu was smiling at me like crazy the whole trip. This very lovely kid tucked on the shoulders of his mom made me miss my nephews a lot. I wanted to give the family a lift but they're heading to the opposite direction. With relatively penniless, i was off to Thamel. I know, very touristy. I paid the man 200 rupees instead of the 400 rupees originally quoted by other taxi drivers. After a couple of minutes, and less than 5 kilometers later, i have arrived at Pilgrims Guest House after more than a month. But alas, it was fully booked that day. They offered to take me to their partner hotel but didn't find these places welcoming to me. I went to get some money at nearby Western Union, and walked for a bit to look for a new place to stay for a few days. 

I am very thankful to my parents for continuously supporting my vision to travel. I don't know how will i survive without them. And a huge chunk in making this particular trip successful is because of them. I will see you guys soon. I can't wait to eat all the Filipino food i could savor, and absolutely do nothing for the next few weeks until I come back and start working again. I am already counting the days when i come back home so we can spend happy times again together. 

Going back, i stumbled upon a new towering hotel called Kathmandu City Hotel. From the looks of it, i know i am going to be spending a lot more. After coming from very spartan accommodations in the past few places i stayed, a hot shower, comfortable bed, and luxurious amenities are in order. I checked the price, and it's not as expensive as i thought it would be. And when i checked the room, and the view -- i knew i am staying here for sure. Shiva who greeted me at the front desk was very helpful, and even carried my huge backpack. Earlier, i went back to Pilgrims Guest House and told them i am transferring to another hotel. It was an amicable goodbye, and i stepped out excited to try Kathmandu City Hotel. 

The first thing i did was to fix my backpack, took a very long bath, and prepared to get some food. I haven't eaten anything solid that day. First thing in my mind was Funky Buddha's chicken snitzel burger which is absolutely divine. It was an early evening for me, to get some much needed rest after traveling for more than a hundred kilometers. And when i talk about 100 kilometers, that's Nepal road. You get the picture. 

I am sitting here at my hotel bed, overlooking a gloomy sky over Kathmandu. Kathmandu City Hotel is definitely my most luxurious stay in Nepal so far, but i must say it's good value. I am now friends with the people who own, managing the hotel. The managers who are long-time friends built this hotel just a few months ago. And Shiva, one of the owners, might just be a candidate for my best man in my wedding soon. He's a very friendly guy, and very honest, too. 

A day before, the whole hotel was peaceful. Today, a whopping 14-piece Spanish entourage came to check in. In addition, a rude group of Indian people ruined my breakfast with their loud noises, and constant complaining with poor attendants. Wake up people, you're in Nepal not in your own country. This country doesn't demand respect, it deserves one. 

I am waiting for my laundry as i write this. It seems it takes forever to dry my clothes because of the unbelievable 12-hour power cut-off everyday in Gandaki Zone, and gloomy weather forecast.I will write more about my experiences here at Kathmandu City Hotel tomorrow, and how I've proven again my enterprising bargaining skills as i haggle and haggle to give my nephews the best present ever.